Survivors of the recent cyclone in Bangladesh are gradually beginning to rebuild their lives, with help from the government and international relief agencies. Bangladesh's military ruler Lt. Gen. Hussain Muhammad Ershad estimates that his country will need $50 million for rehabilitation.
His government is drawing up rehabilitation plans, and will make a formal appeal for help to foreign governments when the real cost is known. Meanwhile, officials said, nearly $4 million would have to be spent to keep up relief supplies for the next two weeks.
So far, the government and the Bangladesh Red Cross have received pledges of $2.6 million from Japan, the United States, the European Community, Britain, and some other countries.
``In the next one week or so the affected people will want to return home,'' says Lizette Echols, assistant director for the program that CARE (the international aid and development organization) runs in Bangladesh. ``So the need is to supply them with material they would need in everyday life and also to build shelters for them.''
The government has so far sent water, dry food, clothes, medicine, and some material for shelter to the affected islands and coastal districts. Air Force helicopters have flown 20 sorties to remote areas carrying 10,000 kilograms (nearly 11 tons) of relief goods. Navy ships and Army transports are also being used in addition to civilian transports for carrying relief supplies.
But, according to nongovernment sources, there are still places where relief has not reached or the quantity of aid given is very small. However, Saidur Rahman of Oxfam, the British volunteer relief agency, believes that the line of supply has been established and from now on distribution will improve.
Foreign volunteer organizations like Oxfam and CARE are concentrating on supplying -- though not in large quantities -- jerry cans, utensils, clothes, quilts, and plastic sheets, to the survivors. CARE has also sent spades to clear the dirt, slush, and bodies. Oxfam intends to help build 1,000 thatched houses.
The government estimates that some 250,000 families will need help in order to return to a normal life. Nearly 90,000 houses, mostly thatched huts, will have to be set up anew or rebuilt.
Most of the families on the affected islands were farmers, and they will need seed, fertilizer, and draft animals to sow new crops. They will also need jobs or some other means of income to help them survive the six months the crop will take to mature and be ready for harvesting.
It is estimated that an area of nearly 12,500 square miles was hit by the cyclone and its periphery. The devastation has not been as severe in all areas as in Urirchar Island and the Noakhali coast because the intensity of the storm and the tidal wave varied.
On his return from Noakhali, Mr. Rahman of Oxfam said that most of the affected people had chosen to stay with their relatives rather than in relief camps. These people, who have either lost their land to river erosion on previous occasions or have recently acquired ownership of land, would not move out of the affected area where their homes and lands were. ``They would rebuild their lives at the same place,'' he said.
It is possible these areas will be again be subject to cyclones. Meteorological studies show that the Bay of Bengal is prone to this phenomenon.
Over the last 100 years there has been a pattern of three to five cyclones forming every year during April and May and from October through December. Bangladesh has been hit by severe storms at least 10 times in the last 25 years.
A senior American aid official said said yesterday that it would be reasonable to estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 people died in the cyclone and tidal wave which devastated many areas in the coastal delta region of the country on May 24 and 25.
The official, William Joslin, who is acting director of the US Agency for International Development in Bangladesh, visited 14 of the cyclone-hit areas yesterday by helicopter. He said that an estimated fifty thousand were severely hurt.
The latest government estimate given Wednesday by Abu-nayeem Amin Ahmed, a presidential aide, put the number of deaths at between 5,000 and 6,000.
[A Western diplomat in Dacca told reporters that officials of foreign aid agencies, who for the first time saw areas hit by the tidal wave, had said damage had been much less than some earlier reports suggested, Reuters reports.
[``Some reports were simply figments of imagination,'' said the diplomat, who declined to be named.]
Mr. Joslin thinks that children would perhaps be the largest number among the dead. He said that at Urirchar island, which was worst affected by the cyclone and tidal wave, the usual crowd of children which greets a helicopter in rural Bangladesh was missing.
The question being asked all over Bangladesh now is whether people should be allowed to build homes or live in areas like Urirchar Island, which have no protection from the waves and the wind.